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Thursday
Nov142013

Yagiyama Zoo

八木山動物園 (Yagiyama Doubutsuen) is located on the top of Mt. Yagiyama, across from the amusement park Benny Land, and is about a twenty-five minute bus ride from Sendai Station. It opened in 1965 and, according to the English page of the official website, has 145 different species and 550 animals. I would take that number with a grain of salt, as there isn’t any information as to when the English page was last updated and one of the Japanese lists only shows 130 species.

There are two entrances to the zoo, the South Gate, near the parking lot, and the Main Gate, which is right across from the entrance of Benny Land and where you’ll likely enter, given that is where the bus stops.

Main Gate: the entrance and ticket booth are to the right, out of frame.

There is a small, two person ticket window on the right where you buy your ticket. Adults can get a day pass for ¥400 or a yearlong pass for ¥1000.

Yes, you read those numbers right.

If you’ve been to some zoos before, that might make you skeptical about the size of the zoo and the quality of its enclosures. Maybe it’s because it’s a city zoo, or maybe they’ve just got some good patrons, but overall, it’s a pleasant surprise for the ticket cost. While not the largest zoo you will ever come across, two hours can easily pass as you make your way around the various exhibits, walking at a casual pace. That is, if you don’t get lost.

The South Gate is near the upper left of this map, while the Main Gate is near the bottom center/right.

The Lay of the Land
The zoo is a bit of a maze, set up in what seems to be a rather willy-nilly fashion on the right half. From a massive variety of bird species, to lamas and camels, lions, tigers, and polar bears (oh my), this side has a bit of everything. Most of the local species, such as wild boars, moon bears (Asian black bears), and tanuki can be seen on this side of the park, shown on the map near the upper right. With all the loops and circles, it’s very easy to end up walking in circles if you’re trying to make sure you see every animal.

Meanwhile the left half, also what I would call the upper half as you move in a distinctly uphill direction, has some semblance of order with the ‘Africa Area’ taking up most of the area. This area is accessed mostly by a single loop path that you follow, which doesn’t always give you a good angle to view some of the animals. It is also a combination of indoor and outdoor enclosures, with the general situation being that the animals are left outdoors during the day or (in the case of multiple animals that I’m assuming'The giraffe is outside.' don’t entirely get along) are likely rotated between the two. In the cases where a single animal has both spaces, there are cute little signs that tell you if they’re outside.

Before I continue, I’d like to mention that I have a love/hate relationship with zoos. I love that I (and others, especially kids) can go somewhere and see such a variety of wild species so close up, but I hate that these animals cannot be living in their natural habitat, and that in a lot of cases zoos are a last defending line in keeping certain species alive because said natural habitat has been/is being encroached on or decimated by expanding human populations. As such, and as a general animal lover, I approach zoos with a critical eye, which leads me to this next section.

One of the red panda enclosures.

Notes on the Quality of Enclosures
I don’t write this as a deterrent for visiting the zoo or commentary on Japanese zoo management (no zoo is perfect), but as an honest, informative section so you know what to expect, especially in case you are sensitive to animal care and quality of life.

Most of the enclosures are quite good, given the general land/space issue that constantly arises in Japan. While none of them are exactly ideal (too little space), they are often furnished with a variety of plant life to create a more natural environment. This, unfortunately, does not apply to all the animals.

Some of the bird enclosures.A number of the birds–or at least those that don’t (apparently) have their wings clipped to allow them to be kept in the open pond enclosure at the front of the zoo–are kept in cement and cage enclosures that, in my opinion, are not nearly big enough for them.

Some of the animals, including most of the primates, do not have any natural components at all. While a few of these have enrichment objects (things meant to stimulate mentally and/or physically), many do not.

The Japanese macaque (the type of monkey most if not all Japanese people will think of if you say サル) enclosure raises a few flags. It’s hard to miss the area, if for no other reason than the smell. It is essentially a large pit. While there are enrichment objects like ropes and lots of other climbing equipment, there is little natural habitat. It’s a lot of cement and metal and to me there appear to be far too many individuals ranging from infants to adults (of likely varying ages). Guests are also encouraged to feed them.

While there are a few interactions which give visitors a chance to feed the animals (the rabbits, elephant, and hippo), these are supervised events that occur only at specific times during the day. For the macaques, feeding is completely unsupervised. The capsule machine.Next to the enclosure there is a capsule machine where, for ¥100, you can buy a plastic capsule full of some little biscuit type snacks that you toss down to the macaques at your discretion. While most people are responsible and dispose of the capsules carefully, they can fall (and have fallen) into the enclosures, posing a possible danger to the animals.

I think that too many rabbits are kept together in cages with varying levels of cleanliness, and, lastly, in the reptile house, some of the turtles are in undersized aquariums, filled with only water. The quality of the rest of the enclosures ranges from okay to pretty good.

Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about some happier things.

Food and Drink
Yagiyama Zoo has a few restaurants and food stands, where prices won’t make your wallet cry, at least not any more than Japanese food prices generally do. Unlike American zoos/theme parks/attractions, they have not inflated the prices, knowing that if you’re hungry, they’re the only option you have. You are even allowed to bring in your own food to enjoy at the various picnic areas, covered and uncovered, throughout the park. And vending machines are a common enough sight that you won’t be worrying about going thirsty.

Animal Interactions and Other Little Things
There do not seem to be any shows or performances at this zoo, but there are a few interactive experiences. Beyond the macaque feeding, at different times during the day you can also feed the hippo, elephant, and rabbits. Each event costs ¥100 and for these three there are a limited amount of servings which are first come, first serve. When they’re out, they’re out.

       Animal  Servings    Time  
 African Elephant        30   13:00 
 Hippopotamus       20   14:40
 Rabbits       20   11:15

 

Around 14:00, the white rhino and red pandas (or Lesser Pandas) have snack time. For the red pandas, some fresh bamboo/leaf shoots are put into their enclosures and they also get slices of apples. It is a chance to see these animals being more active, as they are generally napping happily. Alternately, if you are a morning person, they’re quite active at opening time, when they’ve been let out into the enclosures, spending some time patrolling and marking their territory.

There’s a statue of Babe Ruth on the path around the Africa Area. Random as it seems, there is an explanation for it. The land where the zoo is was originally a baseball field/stadium and the statue is where Babe Ruth hit his first home run on Japanese soil. At least, that’s what the sign says on the statue. It’s a little out of place, but mildly entertaining.

Right next to both entrances there are gift shops with a large variety of omiyage and general gifts, especially of the fluffy, huggable variety (stuffed animals).

Babies
You can call this a subsection or a full blown section, but either way, I felt it should have some distinction. As of the posting of this blog, there have been a few new faces added to the zoo. I briefly mentioned the macaque babies, but those are a fairly common occurrence. These next ones aren’t.

Japanese Stork: On April 20th a baby stork hatched. So far the baby has not been sexed and it doesn’t have a name, but its parents are Kibo and Mirai.
Chimpanzee: On May 2nd the zoo’s 22-year-old chimpanzee, Medaka, gave birth to her 3rd baby with her partner Chacha. The baby has not been sexed and does not have a name yet. It’s been over 10 years since the birth of her last baby, Mimi, who was loaned to another zoo last September for their breeding program.
- Sumatran Tiger: On May 21st the zoo’s Sumatran tiger Bayu (on loan/originally from a zoo in Holland) gave birth to four cubs, two boys and two girls, which, as of October 21st, finally have names that were selected by the staff from over 3,000 choices submitted by zoo visitors. They are Akala ♂ (Hawaiian for sun), Bulan ♂ (Indonesian for moon), Aina ♀ (Hawaiian for earth), and Laut ♀ (Indonesian for sea). Their father is Keahi (on loan/visiting from Honolulu, Hawaii). As of my last visit in early-October, they had Bayu and one of the cubs out in the enclosure from 9:30 to 11:00 each morning and then after that Keahi would have full reign of the outdoor space. I don’t know how long that will continue.
- Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey: On October 20th Maron, the zoo’s 10-year-old spider monkey, gave birth to her 3rd baby with partner Jun. They’re now viewable by the general public. The baby has not been sexed and does not have a name yet.

If you’re interested in animals or have never been to a zoo, or if you simply have a free day, I would definitely recomend a trip to Yagiyama dobutsuen. It really is a fun and interesting trip without having to go too far out of your way and your yen do go to a good cause. And if you find yourself with many hours to spare you can easily head over to Benny Land to see what it’s like having a theme park almost all to yourself.

Information

Address
1-43 Honcho, Yagiyama, Taihaku-ku
Sendai-shi, Miyagi 982-0801

Transportation
There are regular bus services from the No. 9, No. 11, and No. 12 lines at the West Entrance Bus Terminal of Sendai Station. Please check that your bus will pass the park (八木山動物園) and get off at “Dobutsuen-mae”. The ride is about 25 minutes and costs ¥250.

Hours

 March 1 - Oct 31     9:00 - 16:45     Entrance closes 16:00  
 Nov 1 - Feb 28   9:00 - 16:00   Entrance closes 15:00 

 

Closed to Visitors  
Every Monday (If Monday is a holiday, they close on Tuesday.) 
Year-end and New Year (December 28 - January 1)

Admission
 Adults      ¥400
 ES and JHS students             ¥100
 Kids under ES age      Free
 Annual Pass    ¥1000    


Come on by and say hi!

By NF

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